After a few weeks of relative quiet, The Senator You Love To Hate ™, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, was back on Sunday with a new op ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. It spawned a bunch of trending social media hashtags, the expected negative responses from the usual suspects, and a few people asking me if I was going to write about it, lol. I guess I’ve found my branding angle.
So I pulled the op ed up on my laptop and read it with great anticipation—it made so many people angry that it MUST have something new and incendiary in it, right? Nope. It’s the same stuff he’s been saying since March, when the House Passed H1, the For The People Act.
- Partisan voting laws engender mistrust? Check.
- He won’t vote to abolish the filibuster? Check.
- Let’s pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act? Check.
First, let me say that I have been calling Manchin’s office on a weekly basis to say that he should support voting rights, equal rights, a big infrastructure package, raising corporate tax rates, and that he should vote at least to bring back the talking filibuster. I’m in favor of keeping the filibuster with some significant changes because it is a powerful tool for a minority with party discipline.
I also think Manchin has a good point about the deleterious effect of one-party election lawmaking, and I’m fully aware that the laws the Democrats want to implement are good laws. But the country right now is a powder keg, and ripe for violence. Right wingers have already shown they are open to using violence to overturn a lawful election.
Although I suspect most of the Republicans who tell pollsters that Joe Biden isn’t a legitimate president are just being jerks, there is still a significant number of people who believe that who are armed and who have no regard for laws. And I’d also listen to what a Democratic senator in a heavily trumpian state has to say about how to communicate effectively about election legitimacy.
But the thing that has gone unnoticed, after being brought up in March after the House passed HR1, is that the FTPA was dead in the Senate back then. It’s not just Joe Manchin who has issues with the bill as a whole and so it was never going to pass with zero changes.
One group that has objected to the current version of the FTPA is state election directors.
“Listen, I’ll do this—if the law passes, I’ll follow it,” said one state-level Democratic election director in the southeast who declined to be named. “But I can’t guarantee it’s not going to be a total clusterfuck the first election.”
The sections of the bill related to voting systems—wholly separate from its provisions on voting rights—show remarkably little understanding of the problems the authors apply alarmingly prescriptive solutions to. Many of the changes the bill demands of election administrators are literally impossible to implement. Others would significantly raise the cost of elections but provide no assured long-term funding.
This was news to me because the news media is generally too lazy to delve into things like this that aren’t as click-baity as “JOE MANCHIN BAD!!!”.
And there are cowardly Senate Democrats who oppose parts of the bill but insist on secrecy regarding their identities:
The most visible hurdle to date is the apparent opposition of Mr. Manchin, who said last week that he opposed allowing the federal government to wade into election law, which is typically left to the states. He signaled that he would be unwilling to vote for any elections bill that was not bipartisan, much less provide the 50th vote needed to change the Senate rules to get past an all-but-certain Republican filibuster….
Behind the scenes, two election lawyers close to the White House and congressional Democrats said Mr. Manchin was not the only one on their side with reservations about the measure. They insisted on anonymity to discuss the concerns because few Democrats want to concede that there are cracks in the coalition backing the measure or incur the wrath of the legion of liberal advocacy groups that have made its enactment their top priority.
And there is a group of senators who agree with Manchin that the best approach right now is the push for passage of the John Lewis Voting Right Advancement Act. Funny how that’s not being tweeted to the skies, huh? Who are these senators? As it turns out, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed some reservations about the feasibility of passing the FTPA:
The massive election reform measure known as H.R. 1 passed the House last month, but it has yet to win unified support from the 50-member Senate Democratic caucus amid a fierce GOP pushback effort that casts it as an aggressive consolidation of political power. With that Senate logjam in mind, a group of Black Democrats is pressing to elevate a more targeted voting rights bill — named for and championed by the late Rep. John Lewis — that they believe could be a more successful sell on Capitol Hill.
I want to make it very clear that I fully support the goals of HR/S1, and that while I think that in skillful hands the filibuster can be used to fight off bad laws it still needs to go. Providing context for an issue isn’t endorsing a position, it’s helping to create informed discussion.
If only the voting rights obstacle we are facing were as simple as what the media is feeding us–“Joe Manchin is bad”—because that could be remedied with a stick and a bunch of carrots.
Instead it’s much more complicated: lawmakers are writing laws without input from election experts, moderate Democratic senators are afraid to stick out their necks, the House bill is way beyond what is feasible in the current political climate, and the media is more interested in quick click bucks than in presenting the actual context.
It’s clear something has to change. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will put S1 to a vote this week. We’ll see if that happens.